Yesterday on the floor of the Senate, when Doris Uzoka was called to take the podium for her screening to become a minister in Nigeria, the accomplished banker expected that, like the other men before her, she would be questioned both on the content of her character and how she intends to perform the role President Bola Tinubu would assign her.
A graduate of Medicine from the University of Benin, Uzoka later transitioned into banking, specialising in Financial Risk Management and Portfolio Management and is currently the Imo State Commissioner for Finance.
An established banker, Uzoka has more than 20 years of combined banking experience at Zenith Bank, where she rose from an Assitant Banking Officer to Group Head/Treasurer.
At the bank, she managed a substantial total asset exceeding N8.48 trillion ($20 billion), driving over a 36% growth in the bank's gross revenue. Additionally, Uzoka supervised a dynamic trade portfolio valued at $4 billion and orchestrated transactions worth N10 trillion.
So when she prepared for the ministerial screening, she went through her knowledge of economics, double-checked her performance as a top-level banker with one of the biggest banks in the sub-continent, and went through what story the economic numbers in Imo State said. Still, unfortunately for her, she forgot she was a woman.
Garbed in a green ankara dress and marched with a white earring, Udoka stepped into the noisy red chamber to have her day. She introduced herself and reeled out her CV as demanded by the Senate president, Godswill Akpabio.
Then she waited for the questions, and they came, but when a senator suggested that she take a bow and leave, Akpabio insisted she responds to all the questions while retorting that her CV was incomplete.
“I don’t think her CV is completed; I think some pages are missing because I haven’t seen anything on family life. The name of her father, mother, the name of your husband, and how many children,” Akpabio pressed, reechoing the bias women who are perceived as unmarried face in politics.
Akpabio’s observation only highlights some of the challenges women in Nigerian politics often grapple with. These women face distinct biases that impact their experiences and opportunities.
In Nigerian politics, women must have a man. Sometimes, this is seen as the more important qualification.
For people like Akpabio, a woman's perceived unmarried status signifies a lack of stability or commitment, thus questioning her ability to effectively lead or make long-term decisions. This stereotype can lead to doubts about a woman's dedication to public service, undermining her credibility and limiting her chances of advancement in political careers.
Also, since society often expects women to adhere to traditional family roles, those who do not conform may be regarded with suspicion. So, women are expected to have a husband and a family they tend to, and all other achievements pale in the face of this, reinforcing the notion that their personal lives are more relevant than their political or professional expertise.
While Akpabio spoke, there was no one in the senate who called his attention to his “misspeak”, and it's not a shock. Only 3 of the 109 senators in the current Senate are women, one of the lowest in the world. The Nigerian Senate obviously needs more women representation.
Women's representation is critical for recognising and addressing gender-specific concerns that might otherwise be overlooked.
In fact, the Nigerian senate is known for making jokes out of many serious women's issues, such as maternal health, maternal leave and gender-based violence. Last year, federal lawmakers rejected five women-specific bills, sparking protest in Abuja.
Nigeria needs women legislators to play a vital role in amplifying unheard voices. Everyday experiences and problems faced by women, such as balancing work and caregiving responsibilities or advocating for equal pay, can sometimes be taken for granted or inadequately addressed.
Female lawmakers are uniquely positioned to bring these issues to the forefront, advocating for policies that accurately reflect these realities. This fosters a more inclusive legislative agenda, benefiting not only women but society as a whole.
Also, women's participation in the Senate contributes to crafting comprehensive legislation that encompasses the intricacies of daily life that may be overlooked by their male counterparts.
Everyday situations that are often assumed or overlooked, such as ensuring safe public spaces or access to quality childcare, can be directly influenced by legislative decisions. Drawing from their experiences, women senators enrich the policymaking process by contributing insights leading to well-rounded policies.
This, in turn, creates an environment where all citizens, regardless of gender, have the opportunity to thrive and prosper.
Akpabio might have gaffed, and the other senators lent him support with their silence, but Nigerian women also have a name, and maybe we should all begin to call them by it.